Between fictitious and true unity

by Hafiz Noor Shams
The Malaysian Insider
Aug 05, 2011

AUG 5 — There is a strong emphasis on unity in Malaysia.

It is easy to rationalise why this is so. The country has been diverse from the very beginning of its modern history. Each group largely lives differently. While difference and diversity can be sources of strength, it is also a source of conflict.

Some believe that race relations nowadays are worse than they were in yesteryears, but the worst race riot of the country happened in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969. Another big race riot happened in Singapore in July 1964. Conflict between the races was part of the reason why Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965.

Those conflicts have left behind a deep scar in Malaysian society, even as many Malaysians today never witnessed a race riot first-hand. These old fears are becoming irrelevant but it is still part of what describes our society. So entrenched is the fear of history repeating itself that many are mindful of the tiniest possibility of a race riot.

To the mindful and those who are trapped in the 1960s and 1970s still, they believe in the narrative of unity. They believe in unity being the answer to Malaysian divisiveness.

As the wisdom goes, if everybody is united, there would be no reason to quarrel with each other. Nobody would say anything hurtful to the collective ethnic consciousness. In a united Malaysia, everybody would laugh together while waving the Jalur Gemilang happily.

On the surface, the unity narrative is appealing. The ideal provides a stark contrast to the chaotic Malaysia of the 1960s and the period of time after that. Yet, scratch the skin and it will reveal a rotten core.

Their particular unity narrative ignores differing viewpoints. At best, it considers differing positions as being foreign. “It is not part of our culture,” so the typical response goes. Malaysians holding differing ideals are accused of having their minds colonised by outsiders. Imagine in these times of globalisation, one still talks of neo-colonialism. One has to be either paranoid or stuck in time.

When differing viewpoints become too intellectually challenging for the simple narrative, threats are issued. When there is nowhere to go within the realm of pure reasons, talk of feelings. File a police report when feelings are hurt. In the unity narrative, one is not supposed to hurt anyone else’s feelings.

And some fly the flag because the government demands so. The government even threatened to do something to remedy the failure to fly a piece of cloth back in 2006. In Ipoh in 2010, businesses had to fly the Jalur Gemilang if business owners wanted to renew their licences.

One can see how pretentious that unity is.

See how it belligerently pushes aside liberty.

It seeks monotony. It rejects colours. It is either you are with us, or against us.

Unity is not mutually exclusive of liberty, of course. In fact, true unity can only come up under a free environment, where every person is free. It will be hard to achieve unity under such a set-up because individuals in a free society will have differences but if ever dialogue and understanding overcome the differences, then everybody will unite of their own free will.

That is the route to true unity. It is tough but it is the unity that is sincere.

The proponents of unity who are trapped in the 1960s possibly know this. They probably realise the tough road to true unity. Too cowardly to trust in individual effort to bridge the gap perhaps, they choose the ersatz version.

That version of unity is one that is shown only because there is a big stick somewhere, waiting to be taken out if someone dares to say, no, I am different.

  1. #1 by dcasey on Friday, 5 August 2011 - 12:39 pm

    Same goes for the movers for the “1Malaysia” narratives, the “We are the Muslim Moderates” narratives and the “Against Extremist” narratives. Fact or fiction?

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Friday, 5 August 2011 - 1:11 pm

    Clean YELLOW T-shirts will unite ALL rakyat, no joke 1

  3. #3 by monsterball on Friday, 5 August 2011 - 2:08 pm

    Ban Bersih2..ban yellow T-shirt.
    What a joke that have become.
    Yes…YELLOW will be the colour to unite all Malaysians.
    It does not need all Malaysians to wear yellow colour T-shirts at all.
    It is planted in all Malaysians hearts that Najib uses yellow to do his evil deeds…and that colour has become utmost important…not only to Royalties and Buddhist and Hindu monks..but to all Malaysians too.
    Since the UMNO B crooks chooses black and red…white will be for clean…yellow is for freedom.
    In short..BERSIH is a clean government…and Malaysians are inspired by the yellow color to fight for freedom..with no fear.

  4. #4 by ktteokt on Friday, 5 August 2011 - 2:09 pm

    What national unity is Najis talking about when he cannot even unite the Malays even though he is the President of the UNITED MALAYS NATIONAL ORGANIZATION, a body formed in 1946, some sixty over years from now?

  5. #5 by yhsiew on Friday, 5 August 2011 - 2:35 pm

    True unity is possible only when people give up racism and adopt Malaysian first, race second.

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